Pastor Keith Gomez, leader of the "old-fashioned, independent" Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin, Illinois, argued in a recent sermon that if it wasn't for slavery, black people "would still be in Africa with a bone in their nose fighting lions."
A clip from the sermon was first highlighted by controversial Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church who once wished former President Barack Obama would die of brain cancer like Ted Kennedy.
In the clip, Gomez argues that the book of Philemon supports slavery yet modern day Christians are being taught to hate it.
"When you get in the Pauline — are y'all listening to me? — when you get into the Pauline epistles, you're getting in the doctrine. So why would you get in Philemon when he's trying to teach you how to treat your slave? If they should be slaves," Gomez said.
"See, what you wanna do is turn in to TBN [Trinity Broadcasting Network] and listen to them odd birds who don't know doctrine whatsoever. And then you hate slavery because we were taught to hate that. Because we're so nasty," he continued before scolding white people for feeling guilty about slavery.
"And some of you little whities can't get it either. If it wasn't for slavery, those folks would still be in Africa with a bone in their nose fighting lions. And if you don't like that, you can lump it any way you want. That ain't a prejudice. That is factual and historical," he said.
He argued that in Philemon, the Apostle Paul taught Christians how to deal with their slaves. He also noted that slavery exists in many countries around the world, including in Africa where he has been four times.
"So here we are in the Pauline epistles and the man is teaching us how to deal with our slaves. And I don't know if you know this or not, I've been there four times. I don't know how many times you've been to Africa, but I've been there four times. And there are slaves in Africa. All over. African ... with African slaves. And around the country, around the third world country, there's more slaves than what you'd ever want to believe," he said.
"Why is he telling us how to deal and be fair to a slave in a Pauline church epistle? You can't, can you?" he later asked. "Okay, let's move on. I told you I was gonna wake you up."
Anderson raised concerns that Gomez was wrongfully using the book of Philemon to say "slavery is not bad."
"Philemon doesn't teach anything like that," he said.
John Piper, noted theologian and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tackled the issue of Paul's intent in his discussion of slavery in Philemon a few years ago and he concluded that rather than supporting slavery, Paul's discussion of the subject sought to undermine the culturally pervasive institution in his day.
"Paul makes clear that Onesimus (Philemon's slave) is with Philemon in the Lord. '[He is] a beloved brother in the Lord' (1:16). Onesimus' identity is now the same as Philemon's. He is 'in the Lord,'" Piper noted at one point.
"The upshot of all this is that, without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution which is incompatible with the way the Gospel works in people's lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul's way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations. To walk 'in step with the truth of the Gospel' (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery," wrote Piper.
In a response to the Friendly Atheist who sought to clarify the context of Gomez's discussion of slavery, Northwest Bible Baptist Church, which has about 1,000 members, said: "In this specific instance of slavery, if you read the passage he quoted, why would the Bible teach how to care for a servant? His point (in context), is that slavery brought people to America and gave them opportunity at a new life here. Not in any way that the negatives of slavery were a good thing!"